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VOL. 40 | NO. 22 | Friday, May 27, 2016

Are today’s aches a good trade for football glory?

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It is reported that yet another memorable and popular former NFLer, this one a quarterback, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, or simply the concussion disease.

And the report comes, as has been the rule, post-mortem. That is to say, after the subject dies.

There are times when I wish that I had never played football. I think of it every day when my left knee tells me how different it is from every other part of my body.

Notwithstanding the tremendous relief I’ve gotten from a couple of PRP injections during the past five years, the injuries and ensuing surgeries took their toll.

At other times, though, I delude myself into thinking that there was some character-building element to the whole thing, sans which I’d be far less a person today than I am.

This feeling is not altogether different from how I view my military service, which included several weeks of training that involved what might euphemistically be called hazing.

I sometimes wonder whether I could endure the physical strain of two-a-day practices and/or the random “Give me 50 push-ups” in the middle of cleaning a barracks destroyed by TAC officers. Even if my left knee were in better shape.

Each year in early August, I smell high school football every morning. Every time I see a military movie I return in my mind to Fort Ord and Fort Bragg. I recall those days with ambivalence. Especially the football era.

The 1966 Greenville Hornet football squad, on which I was a sophomore, went 5-4-1. At one point in the season we were 3-4, and a sports journalist called us “the best team in the state with a losing record.”

As a 150-pound underclassmen, I was routinely roughed up by 200-pound seniors.

The 1967 team went 0-9. As I tried to claim first-string status as a wide receiver, an unfortunate event happened: I got beat out for the job. Turns out that a friend of mine, who’d never played the game before, decided to give it a try.

Aside from being faster, having better hands and being more willing to dive for out-of-reach passes than me, this kid was worthless. Well, he also seemed to catch any ball thrown within 10 yards of him, was impossible to tackle and scored touchdowns like they were going out of style.

I kicked off, rode the bench and kicked extra points when my replacement scored touchdowns. (It was during spring training in 1968 that I sustained my first cartilage tear. A message from the Universe to quit? If so, I ignored it and was rewarded with periodic re-injuries, though not enough to disqualify me from military fitness.)

The 1968 Hornets went 7-3-1, including a bowl game. That’s where a few fond memories reside. In a 21-20 win over No. 3 Tupelo, I kicked three PAT’s, including one with seconds left in the game. Against Clarksdale, I caught a touchdown pass and kicked four PAT’s. And we trounced Jackson Murrah, a powerhouse that featured players with whom I’d gone to elementary school.

But, truth to tell, I could have lived without a single second of it.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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